Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “etolls”

Bathed in the coloured vomit

Last night I travelled along this stretch of road, perhaps for the last time — the N1 highway going north. I’ve travelled along it quite frequently, taking our son Simon home from work, with his bicycle. He cycles to work in the day, but at night we try to fetch him, because it’s harder for motorists to see cyclists in the dark.

N1 highway with e-toll gantry

N1 highway with e-toll gantry

It’s just on at one intersection at Atterbury Road, and off at the next, the N4 interchange, but in between is one of those toll gantries with its ominous blue lights. And today the toll gantries started operating, or so they said, so I probably won’t be going down that stretch of road again in my lifetime.

Toll roads were introduced in South Africa in the 1970s. Up till then roads had been paid for by the roads fund, which was financed by a fuel levy. It was a good system, and worked on the “user pays” principle — the more you used the roads, the more fuel you would use, and the more you would pay. Heavy vehicles, which caused more wear to the roads, also used more fuel, and so paid more.

But the National Party government wanted to finance the invasion of Angola in 1975, and so it diverted money from the Road Fund for that, and introduced toll roads. When the ANC government came in in 1994, we hoped that the privatisation of infrastructure like public roads would stop, and perhaps be reversed, but the ANC government seems even more eager to expand the toll road system.

But the decision to introduce tolls on the busy urban freeway system of Gauteng has sparked unprecedented resistance. Zwelinzima Vavi, the trade union leader, said yesterday on Twitter ‘let’s unite & teach SANRAL & Govt the real meaning of “The People Shall Govern”‘ He was the leader of Cosatu, the biggest trade union federation in South Africa, and was recently suspended, many suspect because of his opposition to toll roads.

Many other influential people have said they will not register or pay etolls, including a number of church leaders:

Church leaders vowed on Monday to refuse to pay to use Gauteng freeways and called on others to do the same.

“We… church leaders, have therefore decided to publicly declare our intention to refuse to buy e-tags and to refuse to pay this unjust e-toll,” they said in a statement.

“… We call on all other church leaders, members of our churches and all South Africans who support democracy to do the same.”

The leaders, including SA Council of Churches president Bishop Jo Seoka, the Central Methodist Mission’s Bishop Paul Verryn, and Methodist Church of Southern Africa presiding Bishop Zipho Siwa, said the decision had not been easy.

However, it had to be made as the government was not listening to the people.

They said they were shocked and disappointed to hear the government ignore the people’s protests and push ahead with e-tolls.

And I don’t think this will be the end of it, it’s only the beginning.

To paraphrase a poem by John Betjeman:

When all our roads are lighted
By glowing monsters sited
Like gallows overhead
Bathed in the coloured vomit
Each monster belches from it
We’ll know that we are dead.

Nationalising mines… and roads

There has been some discussion in Twitter about nationalising mines, and today Olwethu Sipuka (@osipuka) tweeted “In the 1980’s, the Dep of Public Work could build world class roads etc. What stops us from nationalising mines?”

And my immediate thought was, What stops us from nationalising the roads?

It is true that the Department of Public Works built some excellent roads in the 1980s, but many of them were military roads, intended to get troops to “the border” as quickly as possible. They were little used by the public, and some of them are now in poor repair.

Also in the 1980s, many of the roads that were used by the public were privatised, and turned into toll roads. That was because the National Party government robbed the road fund to pay for its military adventures in Angola. Since we no longer see any need to invade Angola and destabilise our neighbours, it’s high time we nationalised the roads that were privatised back then. But instead, the ANC government is continuing the National Party’s policy of privatisation, and is converting more and more roads into toll roads.

I can think of several reasons why nationalising the roads would be a good idea.

But I can also think of several reasons why nationalising mines would be a bad idea, a very bad idea.

Here are some of them:

  • Mines are a wasting asset. Many mines are nearing the end of their useful life. so taking them over would just be an additional burden to taxpayers. Mining companies amortise the profits over the expected life of the mine, but the profits, for the most part, have long since gone.
  • Mines are becoming a liability. Many mines have caused a lot of pollution, which is becoming worse as they are mined out and no longer work. For example there is acid underground water that needs to be treated. It is only fair that the companies that made the profits should pay to clean up the mess. But if the mines are nationalised, it is the taxpayers who become responsible for paying to clean up the mess that others have profited from.
  • Dying mines will need to lay off workers. If dying mines are nationalised, the government will have to reduce the workforce, and lay off workers. This will set workers against the government.

There are other reasons too, but these are the main one that make me think that we should think twice before nationalising the mines, but that the roads should be nationalised without delay.

Toll roads: it’s not the price, it’s the principle

Back in the 1970s all roads in South Africa were paid for by car licence fees and a fuel tax.

That is the “user pays” principle. The more you use the roads, the more petrol you use, and the more you pay. It’s simple.

And the collection is simple too — back then there was no VAT or sales tax, which are more complicated systems. But the fuel tax was much simpler than either of those systems.

Then the National Party government decided to raid the road fund to pay for its invasion of Angola and its destabilisation of Mocambique. And to compensate for that they decided to convert some existing roads into toll roads. So we had to pay twice. We had already paid for the roads through the fuel tax, and now we had to pay tolls as well.

Now we have an ANC government, which talks about “transformation”, but their idea of “transformation” is to continue to old NP policies, and even to extend them.

And that reminds me of this:

And king Rehoboam consulted with the old men, that stood before Solomon his father while he yet lived, and said, How do ye advise that I may answer this people?

And they spake unto him, saying, If thou wilt be a servant unto this people this day, and wilt serve them, and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be thy servants for ever.

But he forsook the counsel of the old men, which they had given him, and consulted with the young men that were grown up with him, and which stood before him:

And he said unto them, What counsel give ye that we may answer this people, who have spoken to me, saying, Make the yoke which thy father did put upon us lighter?

And the young men that were grown up with him spake unto him, saying, Thus shalt thou speak unto this people that spake unto thee, saying, Thy father made our yoke heavy, but make thou it lighter unto us; thus shalt thou say unto them, My little finger shall be thicker than my father’s loins.

And now whereas my father did lade you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke: my father hath chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.

So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam the third day, as the king had appointed, saying, Come to me again the third day.

And the king answered the people roughly, and forsook the old men’s counsel that they gave him;
And spake to them after the counsel of the young men, saying, My father made your yoke heavy, and I will add to your yoke: my father also chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.

Wherefore the king hearkened not unto the people; for the cause was from the LORD, that he might perform his saying, which the LORD spake by Ahijah the Shilonite unto Jeroboam the son of Nebat.

So when all Israel saw that the king hearkened not unto them, the people answered the king, saying, What portion have we in David? neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: to your tents, O Israel: now see to thine own house, David. So Israel departed unto their tents (1 Kings 12:6-16).

The old men, people like Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Joe Slovo and Chris Hani, are cold in their graves.

But the young men are the tenderpreneurs.

The NP chastised us with whips, and now the ANC, on the advice of young men who knew not Moses Tambo, has decided that their little finger will be thicker than the NP’s loins.

Cosatu march to protest against eTolls

The problem is not just the eTolls on the Gauteng freeway system (a system they want to extend throughout the country), but all the toll roads everywhere. They should all be abolished, and we should revert to the “user pays” system, where roads are funded out of the fuel tax.

It’s actually easy — next time the fuel price drops, as it recently did by 70c a litre, the government just needs to drop it by 50c a litre instead, and use the balance for the road fund. No one would notice, no one would complain. They’d be so glad of a 50c drop that they would not be agitated over the remaining 20c.

The problem with the Gauteng eTolls, of course, is that most of the money we will be paying is for the collection system, and for the tenderpreneurs’, bribes and kickbacks that went to setting it up. And it is that that is causing the government to dig in its heels.

So don’t buy eTags, not now, not ever.

And voice your objections to MphahleT@dot.gov.za fax 0123093134 (if there’s a better address than that, please let me know). So even if the consultations are “a mere formality” (‘E-toll consultations a mere formality’ | ITWeb), have your say anyway.

Where to get the Government Gazettes to comment on eTolling

 

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